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Something rotten in the academy

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... the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences in its ostensible role of assisting the Church in the development of its social teaching is strenuously adopting a profoundly anti-natalist position and, in its plain language, lending support to programs which spread contraception and abortion.

Michael
Pakaluk

The task of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences, founded by St. Pope John Paul II in 1994, is to "to offer the Church the elements which she can use in the development of her social doctrine." If the academy's recent statement on climate change, published under a papal coat of arms ("Climate Change and the Common Good," April 2015), is meant to play such a role as regards the expected encyclical on the environment, Catholics would have grounds to be deeply concerned -- as anyone who relied on this document would be seriously misled.

One might not be surprised that that were so, given that at least two authors of the document have on multiple occasions taken views fundamentally at odds with a Catholic view of human life and creation. Jeffrey Sachs is director of the Millennium Project which promotes the position evident in one of its white papers, "Access to Safe Abortion: An Essential Strategy for Achieving the Millennium Development Goals to Improve Maternal Health, Promote Gender Equality, and Reduce Poverty." An excerpt from Sach's 2009 book, "Common Wealth," gives the flavor of his thought:

"Since the beginning of this decade, population policy has been hijacked by shortsighted ideology. Leaders of the U.S. religious right have called for ending U.S. support for family planning. While that has not happened entirely, the Bush administration has slashed aid to the U.N. Population Fund, and recommended large cuts in direct U.S. funding of family planning services (sc. Planned Parenthood). It's hard to think of a single more misguided policy."

Another co-author, Hans Joachim Schnellnhuber, has argued, on this basis of his models, that the earth can sustain no more than 1 billion human beings, so that the population of the earth should be diminished by about 6 billion. Making a joke in bad taste about it, Schnellnhuber remarked that his finding was "a triumph for science, because at least we have stabilized something --namely, the estimates for the carrying capacity of the planet."

Of course, Sachs and Schnellnhuber have technical expertise, and their inclusion as authors could conceivably be justified if the Academy's document were merely descriptive, not normative. But the document contains normative recommendations which precisely reflect the viewpoints of these men.

We have for instance the spectacle of a Vatican document -- again, published under a papal coat of arms -- which advocates zero population growth: "To save as much of the sustainable fabric of the world as possible, we need to take many steps, among them reaching a level and sustainable population; just consumption rates throughout the world; the empowerment of women and children everywhere."

You might wonder about that clause, "the empowerment of women and children." The phrase is repeated, too, in the final recommendation of the document: "Only through the empowerment and education of women and children throughout the world will we be able to attain a world that is both just and sustainable. We have a clear moral obligation to do this, and will benefit greatly by succeeding in this goal."

What is this "empowerment," and how could it possibly be related to climate change? A little probing reveals that the phrase is a euphemism used regularly to describe intrusive projects which aim to teach girls about contraceptives and abortion from an early age and encourage the use of these things. For example a recent $200 million World Bank grant which aims to "broaden access to contraceptives" in the Sahel Region of Africa is described on its website as the "Sahel Women's Empowerment and Demographics Project."

So the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences in its ostensible role of assisting the Church in the development of its social teaching is strenuously adopting a profoundly anti-natalist position and, in its plain language, lending support to programs which spread contraception and abortion.

In my view it is inevitable that social scientists be normative. Unlike natural scientists, they cannot do their job well without advancing or implicitly relying upon normative views. Wouldn't it make sense, then, that the published documents of the academy be written by social scientists who have the right criteria, perhaps, ideally, by Catholics of high attainment (who, we can predict, have already suffered for their faith)? John Paul II wanted the academy to be a forum for dialogue: then by all means ask a Sachs to prepare a white paper advocating contraception, but let a genuine dialogue take place prior to the publication of the document, or at least have the document additionally incorporate, and prefer, a view which matches Catholic social teaching--as a secondary task of the academy is to display the unity of informed faith and sound science.

The other shortcomings of the document are too numerous to list. Did I say it lacked dialogue? -- Not a word is voiced from the point of view of climate change critics. It includes absurd misrepresentations such as that "air pollution causes 7 million premature deaths each year." (By "premature" they mean "early," and it turns out 4 million of these deaths are traceable to "indoor air pollution," that is, smoke from wood stoves!)

Silliest of all, perhaps, it advocates that people use parabolic, solar stoves, which can take 4 hours standing in the noon sun to cook chicken parmigiana. The authors of the document as punishment, next time they are in Rome, should be forced to eat only food prepared in this way.

MICHAEL PAKALUK IS PROFESSOR AND CHAIR OF PHILOSOPHY AT AVE MARIA UNIVERSITY.

Michael Pakaluk is Professor of Ethics and Social Philosophy in the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America. His book on the gospel of Mark, ‘‘The Memoirs of St. Peter,’’ is forthcoming from Regnery Gateway in March 2019.

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